Book Review: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

“Cutter’s latest novel might be one of the strangest and wildest reads of 2017.”

In Little Heaven, Nick Cutter gives his readers an audacious 20th Century horror-western epic. Cutter’s latest novel might be one of the strangest and wildest reads of 2017.

Micah Shughrue, Minerva Atwater, and “The Englishman” Eb Elkins are killers, and like characters from Smokin’ Aces or a Tarantino film, they’re each given a scene or two to showcase their unique perspectives and hidden talents before the book starts rolling. Shot up and escaping the law, the trio of desperados realize they get more done when working together, so when they’re approached by a woman to help her find her nephew–taken by his father to a religious compound in the middle of nowhere–our badass protagonists ride out to cash in on an easy job. Soon they’re right in the heart of Little Heaven, home of a strict religious sect and their unpleasant leader, the Reverend Amos Flesher. It’s there, trapped in Little Heaven by extraneous circumstance, that the Bad Things start to happen.

And Nick Cutter loves his Bad Things. Cutter is a brilliant wordsmith–lyrical, descriptive, and downright enchanting at times– but he shines the brightest when he’s describing some pretty horrific shit. Little Heaven is a devious bit of escapism, but not for the faint of heart. Monsters, obsessions, sexual frustrations, gore, and religious doom-cult iconography fill these pages with a consistent nastiness that builds chapter by chapter (like any good Western) towards a showdown. There’s a lot of story here, and Cutter unpacks it all, leaving no stone unturned.

If Little Heaven were a comic book, Cutter’s characters could easily hold their own against the casts of Ennis and Dillon’s Preacher or the apocalyptic misfits of Hickman and Dragotta’s East of West. They’d be iconic and revered. But for a novel grounded in Cutter’s prose it’s often hard, and a little frustrating, to suspend disbelief for the more outrageous portions of the novel. These outlaws are caught in a straight-forward survival story, but Cutter isn’t content to let them exist two-dimensionally. He breathes life into them and fills pages and pages with detailed flashbacks and motivations that are all bits of ephemera to add to the epic scale of the book, but ultimately seem unnecessary and distracting for the type of story Little Heaven presents itself to be.

And that’s the rub. Cutter’s an effective horror writer–there are genuine scares in the long book–but on occasion the story runs away with itself. There are readers out there who’ll probably never notice. They’ll enjoy every chapter and want more when they’re done. It’s not hard to imagine this book blowing people’s minds. But for another set of readers Little Heaven will feel like a Frankenstein’s monster of a novel, made up of some of horror’s greatest hits. Cutter wears his influences right on his sleeve, and it isn’t hard to see the many parts that influenced the whole. Whether or not this is a conscious decision, it can take a reader out of the story as they experience cultural deja vu, and once you’re aware of the feeling it’s a hard one to shake off.

Little Heaven is a thrill ride, no doubt about it, and one that will leave you wondering what Nick Cutter has planned for us next.

JAKE MARLEY

 

Publisher: Gallery Books
Hardcover (496 pp)
Release Date: 10 January 2017

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